When I met Sara she was a carbon copy of Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde. Bubbly and effervescent, she talked like her, she carried herself like her, she was just that girl. Learning about self-defense was clearly not at the top of Sara’s list of priorities that afternoon, but to her credit she went through all the training with a standard level of disinterest and did nothing to make the event more difficult (unlike some of the fathers, intent on impressing their daughters). Afterward I didn’t think much of our limited exchanges, frankly. It was just another corporate seminar.
Three years later, I was holding a series of seminars in New York City and she walked in with her three younger sisters in tow. “Do you remember me?” she asked. She didn’t have quite the same stereotypical “ditzy blonde” affect, but she looked more or less the same.
“Of course I do. Nice to see you again.”
“Did Dad call you and tell you what happened?”
“No,” I said, “what happened?”
Soon after the cruise, Sara moved into the dorms to start her freshman year. She had a first-floor room, a roommate, a lofted bed with a desk underneath, the whole college dorm experience. One morning, when her roommate was sleeping over at her boyfriend’s apartment, Sara woke up with a man on top of her. This was not a drunken hook-up, this was a stranger. A man who had somehow managed to climb through Sara’s window and up the ladder onto her platform bed without being detected.
Sara’s nightmare scenario isn’t a common one. Twenty-eight percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by strangers, but the reality is, women like Sara are much more likely to be attacked by someone they know. That statistical unlikelihood didn’t make Sara’s situation any less real. She could smell this strange man. He was grabbing at her. By the time Sara could clear the cobwebs from her brain, he had her pinned and was about to pull back the sheets. Most young women’s first reaction in this scenario would be to scream. Not Sara. She instantly recognized the situation she was in. Her first reaction wasn’t a reaction at all, it was a thought: “He’s not close enough.”
During our training aboard the cruise ship, we ran the girls through a series of sexual assault scenarios. One of the things we taught them was that after a man grabs you, in order to perpetrate a rape he will have to move in at least two ways: 1) he will have to remove, unzip, or pull down his pants, and 2) he will have to remove or pull down any of her clothing obstructing his path. In this scenario, he would also have to pull down the comforter and sheets under which Sara was sleeping. When that moment of adjustment occurs, the attacker will have to loosen control of her body and remove at least one of his hands from her. Doing so would also bring him closer to her and expose one of his most vulnerable body parts—his face.
So, Sara waited. The next thing she realized was that to escape this situation unharmed she would have to inflict an injury (we will cover the concept of injury in great depth in Chapter Six). She wasn’t going to escape by yelling—only by doing, and by doing something terrible. Pinned to her back, with his legs positioned inside hers, the only vulnerable body part she could reach was the man’s eyes. (It was one of several body parts we trained briefly with her cruise group.)
Sure enough, the man began to adjust. He pulled down the sheets and then his pants, forcing him to lean in closer to her. That’s when Sara snapped into action. She wrapped her left arm around the back of his neck, and attacked his left eye with her right hand. She remembered from the seminar that when you attack anywhere on an assailant’s face—but especially the eyes—they are going to move away from you violently. This is both an instinctive self-preservation response and an attempt to retain control of the situation by pulling away from the attack. If you’re a young woman like Sara, who weighed probably 110 pounds at the time, that means you can’t let up. You don’t have the same margin of error as a man or a larger woman. You literally have to hang on for dear life, and keep attacking. (Remember what happened to Diane when she scratched blindly at her attacker’s face?)
Sara’s attacker was easily 235 pounds, and strong. When she dug into his eye, he wrenched back in the opposite direction like a rodeo bull. Their combined momentum pulled them both off the lofted bed and onto the hardwood floor below. Knowing something like this was going to happen, Sara focused on her grip around the back of the man’s neck and latched on. While her grip around his neck stayed secure as they fell to the floor, she lost her grip on his eye and her forearm slipped down his face. This was not a conscious decision on Sara’s part, but as they hit the ground, she sent all her 110 gravity-aided pounds through her right forearm and into his throat.
She felt the injury happen right as they hit the ground. His body went weak. Any vile intention his brain may have been conjuring became moot the moment his body ceased to function at its command. This gave Sara the opportunity she needed to get away and run screaming down the hall for help. By the time campus security got to her room, the man had asphyxiated and died right where they’d landed.
When Violence Is the Answer by Larkin (2017)
As someone who had a rather … negative experience a while back … I can understand the above-described situation. And yeah, as a completely off-topic posting on a creativity blog, that is actually something very well worth learning.
How to defend yourself. Not wait for someone else, who might come or not. Not to expect someone else to take your side. But just to take your life into the best hands there are — your own.
Very well worth considering. How was it …
«You lost today, kid, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.»
Fedora in «Indiana Jones and the last Crusade»
(P.S.: It’s a book well worth reading. Less so for practical advice, but for the general attitude. On the one hand, it’s well worth knowing. On the other hand, some prior classmates are only alive today because I did not know that information … then. Just saying.)
Source: Larkin, T. (2017). When Violence is the Answer. Little, Brown and Company.